May 29, 2012 6:04 pm
A: This will vary depending on the type of work that is done. Remodeling magazine publishes an annual "Cost vs. Value Report'' that can answer this question in more detail, based on the top 15 home improvements. A recent study it conducted says the highest remodeling paybacks have come from siding and window replacements, major kitchen remodeling, bathroom and family room additions, and mid-range master bedroom suites.
An important point to remember is that remodeling not only improves a home’s livability, it also enhances its curb appeal with future buyers.
May 25, 2012 2:54 pm
This summer, I’m going to pot –I mean, I'll be following the lead of the Ballard Design Studio pros who say this is the year to start decorating with planters.
Getting started is as easy as strategically placing a few potted containers to create lush, easy-to-maintain landscaping for your outdoor space. A mix of foliage plants and flowers provide instant color, and planters provide you with a great design tool because you can use them to define a space.
Use leafy green plants in a row of planters to create a cozy conversation area or direct a natural flow of traffic to and from the patio. And trees potted in containers are great for blocking off a workstation or hiding unsightly areas.
And remember, when grouping containers together, stagger heights for the biggest visual impact. Here are a few more "self-contained" tips from the pros at Ballard:
• Create a combination of thriller, filler and spiller plants. A thriller is a bold plant that creates height. A filler is a mounding, billowy plant and a spiller is a low trailing plant that spills out of the sides toward the ground.
• Consider texture and color combinations.
• Make sure all of the plants are either shade lovers or require sunlight, depending on the location of your planter.
• Think about presentation when choosing number of plants. Will the planter be seen from all sides or just one?
The Ballard design pros also advise you to use planters as makeshift beverage tubs and place them in convenient gathering spots — by the grill, pool or a seating area — and keep the drinks flowing. Or, place planters filled with towels, flip-flops, sunscreen and hats nearby - planters are an attractive, weatherproof alternative to woven baskets or unsightly plastic tubs.
And if you want to make your first easy stab at window box or patio gardening, create a feast for the senses with potted herbs. Aromatic herbs such as mint, lavender, basil and rosemary infuse the air with their natural scents and enhance your favorite dishes.
May 25, 2012 2:54 pm
Memorial Day Weekend is here! And with it, the start of picnic season. As you plan your next outing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reminds you that foodborne bacteria multiply faster in warm weather, and this can lead to food poisoning (also known as foodborne illness).
Prior to barbecue time - defrost meat, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator or by submerging sealed packages in cold water. You can also microwave-defrost, but only if the food will be grilled immediately afterward. If marinating, use the fridge not the countertop. Never reuse marinade that contacted raw foods unless you boil it first, or set some of the marinade aside before marinating food to use for sauce later.
Handling fruits and vegetables – thoroughly wash all produce before eating even if you plan to peel it. Fruits and vegetables that are pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated or kept on ice to maintain quality and safety.
When packing picnic gear - place food from the refrigerator directly into an insulated cooler immediately before leaving home, and use lots of ice or ice packs to keep it at 40 °F or below. Pack raw meat, poultry and seafood in a separate cooler if possible, or wrap it securely and store at the bottom of the cooler where the juices can't drip onto other foods. Place beverages in a separate cooler; this will offer easy drink access while keeping perishable food coolers closed. If your picnic site doesn't offer clean water access, bring water or pack moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands. Don't forget to pack a food thermometer!
Keep cold foods cold - load coolers into the passenger compartment of the car; it's cooler than the trunk. Once at the picnic site, keep food in coolers until serving time, out of direct sun – and avoid opening the lids often.
When grilling - have clean utensils and platters available. Cook meat, poultry and seafood to the right temperatures; use a food thermometer to be sure (see Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart). Keep cooked meats hot until serving time, at 140 °F or warmer; set them to the side of the grill rack to keep them hot. When removing foods from the grill, place them on a clean platter – never use the same platter and utensils you used for raw meat, poultry or seafood.
Watch the time and outside temperature - don't let hot or cold perishables sit out in the "Danger Zone"(between 40 °F and 140 °F) for more than two hours – or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 °F. If they do, discard them.
May 25, 2012 2:54 pm
Gardening can be a rewarding experience, but according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in 2010 more than 41,200 people in the United States were injured as a result of working in their gardens.
Planting cascades of flowers and adding other landscaping features to your yard involves tools and equipment that, if used without precaution, could result in serious injuries.
"Whether you're an expert gardener or first-timer, carefully planning your gardening project from beginning to end is important," said orthopaedic surgeon Christopher Doumas, MD an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons spokesperson. "Many gardening injuries such as back strains or cuts from sharp tools can be prevented if the proper planning and safety guidelines are put into action."
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends following these gardening safety tips and sharing them with family and friends.
• Plan what you want to do in advance and do not be in a hurry.
• Wear protective gloves, sturdy shoes and long pants when working in the garden to protect against insect bites and injuries such as stepping on sharp objects or cuts from handling sharp tools.
• Familiarize yourself with the plants that are in your garden. If you identify poisonous plants or trees, ensure you keep young children away and educate them about the potential risks. If you cannot identify a plant or tree, take a sample to your local garden center for identification.
• Keep gardening equipment in good working order. For example, when using a hedge trimmer for the first time in a season, have it serviced to ensure that it is working correctly.
• To avoid injuring your back when lifting heavy objects in the garden, position yourself close to the object you want to lift. Separate your feet shoulder-width apart to give yourself a solid base of support, bend at the knees, tighten your stomach muscles and lift with your leg muscles as you stand up. If an object is too heavy or is an awkward shape, do not try to lift it by yourself. Get help.
• To avoid back and knee injuries caused by repetitive bending and kneeling in the garden, consider using a garden stool to help relieve pressure on your spine and knees.
• Gardening in the early morning or late afternoon helps avoid the heat of the sun. However, early morning and evening are dangerous times for UVA rays, which harm the skin, so a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen of at least SPF 15, and sunglasses are recommended regardless of time of day.
• Stay hydrated with fluids, especially if you're working up a sweat.
• Do not drink alcoholic beverages before gardening as you may be operating equipment and using sharp tools.
• Children should not be allowed to play in or near where sharp tools, chemicals or gardening equipment are being used or stored.
• Remove stones, toys and other objects from the yard before you start gardening.
Source: The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
May 25, 2012 2:54 pm
Word of the Day
Graduated payment mortgage. Mortgage loan for which the initial payments are low but increase over the life of the loan.
May 25, 2012 2:54 pm
A: Once your home is available to be shown strive to keep it in tip-top shape. This will require a lot of effort on your part, but you want buyers to feel welcomed and not turned off by unmade beds, cluttered floors, and grungy bathrooms.
Realize, too, that your life will be temporarily inconvenienced. When an agent – yours as well as others – calls wishing to bring a buyer to see the home at the last minute or on the same day, respond favorably. Remember your goal is to get the home sold, and that can only be accomplished if people get to see it. Flexibility is the key to a quick sale.
Plan not to be present when buyers pass through. It is awkward and unsettling for them to have the owners present. If you cannot leave, sit in the backyard. But do not attempt to have conversations with the buyer. Speak only when spoken to; be brief and polite.
Finally, pay special attention to pets, particularly dogs. They can be intimidating. Put them on a leash and in the backyard. Better yet, when possible, take them with you. And be keen to pet odors. They can turn buyers away.
May 24, 2012 5:52 pm
As employment demographics have stalled and shifted over the past few years, a significant number of unemployed Americans have decided to go back to school. If you are among this group, or if you have a graduating high schooler bound for college in the fall, it is a good time to take an in-depth look at where the jobs are before deciding on a major.
A 2012 study by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workplace zeroes in on the five majors most likely to result in steady employment:
1. Information technology – It should come as no surprise that an IT degree is valued by a host of employers. IT grads, who study such specialties as computer hardware and software support, research and communication, and/or the relationships between computers and humans, had an unemployment rate of 5.4 per cent last year as opposed to am 11.4 per cent rate in the general population.
2. Health care administration – The unemployment rate of graduates in this field has been as low as 2.9 percent in recent years – and the growing need for preventative care as well as a generation of aging baby boomers will continue to make health care administrators a valued and sought-after group of employees for hospitals, nursing homes and more.
3. Criminal justice – Growing demand for public safety will call for more police officers, but also for employees with a broad knowledge of public administration. Students who focus on law, psychology, and/or sociology should find steady employment in the field of criminal justice.
4. Marketing and communications – Wordsmiths and creative thinkers who can design and market new products and services already are a valued commodity. The Georgetown study says students of consumer behavior, international markets, market research and communication can expect to meet a growing call in related fields like market research analysts, public relations specialists and social media experts.
5. Accounting – Math proficiency and a bachelor’s degree in accounting will prepare job-seekers for a great variety of jobs in financial markets over the next few years, especially as employers in the financial sectors seek to comply with new standards and a host of stricter laws and regulations.
May 24, 2012 5:52 pm
(ARA) - Between work, school, children's activities, family obligations and travel plans, today's busy families are left with little time to keep their homes tidy and well-organized. With summer fast approaching, it is important for on-the-go families to realize that home organization does not have to be difficult or time consuming.
If you follow these tips, you will learn to prioritize your home organization needs, delegate responsibilities, and ultimately save valuable time:
* Make a plan: Keep a small journal in which you list all the areas you would like to tackle before the summer. This will remind you what to focus on and help you organize and clean in less time.
"Busy families need a good system of organization - places to put things and labels for identifying what you've stored so you can easily find whatever you need quickly and easily," says Martha Stewart, founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
* Teach your family to pitch in: If you're the main housekeeper, it's reasonable to ask family members to help with chores such as loading the dishwasher, picking up toys, taking out the trash and doing the laundry. Delegating small chores throughout the year makes larger organization projects a much easier task.
* Stick to a schedule: Try a dry-erase weekly planner calendars, allowing you to create chore charts for family members and assign each task a time slot or day of the week. Place the chart on the door of the refrigerator, so everyone sees it regularly. Schedule a cleaning task as you would a play date or other fun activity.
* Tackle one room at a time: To prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed, it is important to identify the areas that need to be organized. From there, determine which tasks are most necessary in each of those rooms. For example, in your home office, you may need to declutter your desktop by filing away papers in magazine files or organizing financial information in a freestanding accordion file.
* Use bins and labels to organize trash: Instead of simply dividing items into separate piles that will likely get knocked over or mixed up, use plastic bins and adhesive labels that say keep, recycle, or donate.
These simple steps make home organization more enjoyable and manageable for a busy, active family. Follow the tips to freshen up your home and get ready to enjoy summer.
May 24, 2012 5:52 pm
Summer creates many great photo opportunities, but also picture-taking challenges. The following tips can help you avoid common photo-taking challenges, such as lighting, blurriness, candid photography, and more.
• Photography Dos & Don'ts - Although it's often said the only rule to photography is there are really no rules, there are still some helpful guidelines to better enhance even the simplest snapshots.
Rule of thirds - envision an imaginary grid - 9 equal squares - now align your subject on one of the two vertical gridlines, adding balance and interest to your snapshot.
Viewpoint - try shooting your subject from above, far away, or very close up to create a major impact.
Framing - use trees and other natural elements to frame your photo and isolate the subject.
Shutter speed - never be afraid to experiment with shutter speed to convey motion. Slow creates blurry, and Fast creates stop-action clear.
• Don't be afraid of the dark - During summer, some of the best photo opportunities happen at night at campfires and 4th of July fireworks. However, photographing at night creates challenges.
Take advantage of the night sky - use the street and moonlight to help light up your subject. Turn off the flash on your camera to enhance the natural light.
Embrace the blur - experiment with moving cars and flickering candles, but try to stabilize your camera, and/or use a one-touch-timer button. Use water to reflect light.
• Take advantage of candid action - Everyone takes fantastic posed photos but this summer, work on your action shots. Whether it's a summer time baseball games or a swim meet competition, here are tips on capturing candid shots.
Make a point to catch people in action - some of the best pictures are when subjects are unaware of the camera.
Do not use flash - it can take away from the natural background and make the image look less candid and more posed.
Take your camera or camera phone with you everywhere this summer - keep your camera/phone chargers with you at all times.
Zoom options - when zooming you lose the quality of the subject. Take your photo with minimum zoom, and then use the zooming and cropping function inside Mixbook's photo book editor to enhance.
Experiment with your shots - don't be afraid to take too many photos -- rule of thumb: take 3-5 photos of each subject.
• Bring summer vacations photos to life - Don't lose track of all those great photos, keep them organized with photo books.
Upload hard copy photos - scan and upload copies to your free Mixbook account
Fill an entire photo book with just one click - using Mixbook AutoMix magic wand tool.
Choose from a wide variety of summer-themed photo books - including camping, summer days, cruise, and destination styles photo books.
May 24, 2012 5:52 pm
As students graduate from colleges and universities across the country and begin to plant the seeds for their financial future, it’s important they start off on the right financial foot.
“Graduation is an exciting time for students who are often anxious to gain financial independence,” says Terry Jorde, Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) senior executive vice president and chief of staff. “It’s important to remember that the financial decisions you make now will affect your future for years to come, so take a moment to outline your short- and long-term financial goals and come up with a monthly budget that will work for you. Believe me, this is one simple exercise that will be well worth any recent grad’s time. You’ll thank yourself a few months and a few years down the line.”
Jorde suggested that students who don’t already have their own individual bank accounts (not cosigned by mom and dad) open one immediately. “Look to a community banker who can work with you one-on-one to make a financial plan that suits your individual needs,” says Jorde.
Other tips from ICBA include:
• If you don’t have strong financial literacy skills, take some time to educate yourself on money matters, such as credit and ways to save for retirement. There is an abundance of resources available from programs such as FDIC Money Smart.
• Understand credit, how to build it and what hurts it.
Set up online banking to help you manage your finances from anywhere.
• Start saving for retirement now even if it does seem like a long way away. Many employers offer investment matching plans to help you get started.
• Set up an automatic savings account that pulls from your account every month as soon as you get your paycheck. Some employers also allow you to defer savings to another account. If you don’t see it, chances are you won’t miss it so much. Having a safety net in your savings account will help you stress less.
• Stay on top of any student loans, don’t miss deadlines and consolidate if appropriate. Some companies will help you pay off your student debt; make sure to ask about this when negotiating your new job.
• Review your banking, credit card and loan statements regularly so you can be aware of any errors.
• If you move, notify your bank, card and loan issuers immediately.
• If closing a bank account, confirm that the account and appropriate lines of credit have been closed by verifying with the bank.
• Take advantage of working with financial planners at your bank who can help you create your financial roadmap and a smart monthly budget for this stage in your life.
“This stage of a grad’s life is all about empowerment—and financial matters are no different,” says Jorde. “We congratulate this year’s college grads and wish them a prosperous financial future.”
To learn more about ICBA, visit www.icba.org.